For several hours on Thursday, Jan. 25, the hallways and elevators of the General Assembly building in Richmond were crowded with hundreds of Methodists. Doing its part on United Methodist Legislative Day, a delegation of eight women from Russell Road’s Rising Hope United Methodist Mission Church visited their state representatives to petition for or against several bills being considered by the General Assembly.
“People who come and speak on behalf of people whose voices can’t be heard do something special. Thank you for lifting up those people who are voiceless,” said State Del. Kristen Amundson (D-44), who met the group in her office.
The group had come to support bills that would increase the minimum wage and help people pay their rent. But they began their session with Amundson by voicing their opposition to a bill that could criminalize church volunteers’ aid to illegal immigrants. A similar bill in Congress last spring caused protests across the country. It was defeated. The Virginia bill, HB 2622, would make it a felony to harbor, transport or conceal an illegal immigrant. It is now under consideration in a house subcommittee.
Volunteer Karin Albin said the bill would conflict with the church’s mission to help anyone who needs it, without exception. “As a church we service everybody. We don’t care whether or not they’re undocumented or whether they were born here. If they need food, if they need clothing, I’m going to give it to them.”
Albin referred to her own life when she spoke in favor HB 2743, a bill that would establish four pilot projects in the state to help families who are already receiving temporary assistance fill the financial gap between their salary and the cost of housing. The bill was introduced by several delegates from Northern Virginia, including David Englin, who represents part of Mount Vernon and the city of Alexandria.
“There should be a second chance so people can get their lives back together,” said Albin. She recalled living in a motel for two years because she could not put down a deposit on an apartment. She also spoke with emotion about a recent, cold night when she had to turn away a homeless woman with two small children from the Hypothermia shelter in the basement of Rising Hope. The shelter has an age limit of 18. The family had nowhere to go.
AMUNDSON HAD some cheerful news for the Rising Hope delegation. Several months ago, Rising Hope feared its ability to feed the poor would be curtailed by a decision from county health inspectors that donated food must be prepared in commercial-grade kitchens. A compromise was reached, allowing Rising Hope volunteers to cook in the church’s kitchen after being trained.
Amundson drafted a law that would grant a permanent exception to state and local health code kitchen requirements for “charitable organizations that engage in food distribution to the needy.” This includes homeless shelters like the Hypothermia project at Rising Hope. The bill would also allow people to prepare food for donation in their own homes.
Amundson announced to the group last Thursday that the bill had unanimously passed through its sub-committee. Now it has met a favorable response in the full House. State Sen. Toddy Puller introduced a similar bill in the Senate.
Rising Hope’s Laura Derby said that in addition to its visit to Amundson, the delegation also met with Puller, sat in on several committee hearings and attended a large event at a nearby Methodist church.